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4 iconic U2 album covers and the secrets behind them

DailyEdge.ie talks to U2′s longtime art director, Steve Averill, about the inspiration behind the images.

U2′S CONSISTENTLY STRIKING album covers have become some of the most iconic album sleeves in the history of music.

But iconic images don’t just happen – U2 have long relied on Irish graphic designer Steve Averill to help them construct the perfect album artwork.

Along with his working partner Shaughn McGrath, Steve has been the creative force behind the majority of U2′s album sleeves since 1978. He’s also worked on album artwork for Something Happens, Clannad, Elvis Costello and more recently, The Script.

Speaking to DailyEdge.ie, Steve revealed the stories behind some of U2′s most memorable album covers.


114099908 Source: CDandLP.com

The boy on the now-iconic is Peter Rowan (brother of Bono’s good friend, the artist Guggi) who is now an accomplished photographer in his own right.

The band famously feared the picture would have “connotations of paedophilia” in the US, and changed to a distorted group shot. It has since been re-released with the original cover.

Steve reckons the cover was an “unusual” move for a band just starting out:

I always think Boy is unusual, as it doesn’t look like a typical first album cover. We chose an iconic image, rather than a shot of the band. The cover for October looks more like a “first album cover”.


u2_war Source: Blogspot

Though the band again chose Peter Rowan to star in the cover image for their 1983 album War, it wasn’t their original intention.

Steve recalls that they first intended to use a more obvious depiction of war for the artwork.

We were looking at a lot of different war images from different war photographers, trying to figure out how to best portray a war scene. Then we thought showing just one scene would limit it.
Then I remembered seeing this picture of children in the Warsaw Ghetto getting rounded up, and there was one boy with this look on his face, like “Why is this terrible thing happening to me?”

Using that image as a springboard, the idea for the War album artwork was born.

The Joshua Tree

U2 'The Joshua Tree Collection - Album Sampler No. 5' Vinyl (FRONT) Source: Little Museum of Dublin

At the time the cover was shot, The Joshua Tree was tentatively titled The Two Americas. The band wanted to capture the part of the US where “nature and industrialisation meet”.

Steve says the end photos for The Joshua Tree were the result of a “happy accident”:

We had stopped and shot at a ghost town in Nevada, and [photographer] Anton Corbijn wanted to shoot at Joshua Tree National Park next. It was then that the band began thinking of The Joshua Tree as a possible name for the album.
On the way Anton spotted this lone tree in the desert – usually they grow in bunches. We got out of the van there and then and shot the inside sleeve photograph.

thejoshuatree_gatefold_640 Source: U2.com

Achtung Baby

Achtung Baby signed by Bono Source: Little Museum of Dublin

Steve considers Achtung Baby his favourite cover to work on with the band – it was shot in several different countries and used colourful images, to contrast with the black-and-white photographs on earlier covers.

He says at this time the band were concerned about their public image:

People thought the band were po-face and serious, and we wanted to change that. We always wanted the cover to reflect the music inside.
The way we work depends on the album. Sometimes the band are very clear about what they want to do, otherwise we listen to the music and work away on concepts. They’re always great to work with. There’s always great humour, great intensity.

Steve will be talking about his work with U2 in a public conversation tonight at 7pm in the Little Museum of Dublin. Tickets cost €11.30 – book here

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